Blog No. 41
Over the weekend I had an idea for a blog about video games, but I was too busy playing a game to bother writing anything down. Now like Samuel Taylor Coleridge my original vision is lost but I thought I would still write something about video games. It is in no way going to be as interesting or inspired, but I’m going to give it a shot. I think it’s important to note that I am not exactly a gamer (whatever that may be). While I often waste my time playing games I am nowhere near the cusp of the industry. At no point have I been current or dedicated to gaming. I am what gamers maliciously call a casual gamer. I would appreciate if you would conveniently ignore the fact that I co-hosed a Wii podcast years ago. While it was a blast, the point was more about the podcast itself (and my ego) rather than the system or games.
Until I bought the Wii, the only current game system I had was the Atari. I did buy an N64, but that was after it was obsolete. I don’t want to say that I never played video games. I have fond memories of long gaming sessions with friends growing up (and some all by myself). What I want to say is that video games have never been a focus in my life. I don’t care to spend the time or money getting the newest system or the latest game. The graphics on the newer systems are unbelievable (especially coming from a guy who spent most of my time playing Atari) but as everyone who is in the industry says, it’s not the graphics but the games.
Games in any form (from the newest video games to the ones you made up as a kid) are really all the same. It’s about leisure and in many cases it’s social. I don’t want to go back on last week’s post (or any other post really) and say I actually do like to be social. I do, to a certain extent. While I am quite happy in my solitude (including game time) some things are just better with friends. For me games are one of them. Be it video games, board games or even the games my brother and I still make up with a birdie and a bat in our back yard (I will leave the description of the sport of kings for another time) I enjoy gaming with friends. Video games are best played with friends in the same room. My brother and I have discovered coop games and have never looked back. While we can often get on each other’s nerves, playing a game together is less frustrating and more relaxing. We bring different styles to the table that usually mesh well. I am a classic impatient run-n-gunner and he likes to explore every pixel on the map. It makes for a fun evening of shooting zombies and cracking wise.
While I enjoy playing games with friends, I have no love for online gaming. I have tried several times and I find unless you are one of those hardcore gamers, don’t bother. I think this comic sums it up better than I could so I’ll just point you there. (http://www.dorkly.com/comic/49235/a-tale-of-two-gamers).
Not being a hardcore gamer I don’t spend a lot of time playing game, but I still find I spend way too much time on them (especially since I should be using that time to write). But like books and movies I escape easily into video games. It’s an interactive story and some of them are on par with the best movies the theater has to offer. One of the major shifts in the industry has been storytelling. With early games little more than dots and lines games have evolved into sweeping stories with cinemas filling in the gaps. While that has done wonders to elevate games to a higher “art form” I personally have found it leads to worse game-play. Those early dots and lines had a big replay value and exciting action. Asteroids, Moon Patrol, Joust, Phoenix (My mom’s favorite) and dozens more were played for decades at my house. We’d post high scores on a white board and try to beat our siblings. There was no need for storylines or cinematics. We would read the box and fill in the gaps ourselves. Now there are games that spend more time telling the story than letting you play. I wonder what that says about our imaginations.
Being a writer though, story is always king and there are some real gems that have a great mix of game-play and story (Knights of the Old Republic jumps to mind, so do the Zelda games). As games moved from the arcade to the home they have exchanged arbitrary goals for interactive stories. While I love the stories, personally I miss the arcades (even though I was rarely allowed to go to them). So for me Atari is my Xanidu – the stately pleasure dome where games were designed to eat quarters and required a hefty dose of the gamers’ imagination. And while I spend too much of my time on games I don’t expect to change any time soon.